Sometimes an idea seems so right but is so wrong.
What could possibly be wrong with growing corn for ethanol by using biomass, helping farmers, and creating energy independence? What happened, of course is that the ethanol mandates and subsidies drove up food prices, reduced wetlands, consumed a vast amount of water, and has little if any effect on energy independence.
It was only a few years ago that libertarians warned that growing corn to make ethanol as a gasoline substitute was a really dreadful idea. We were proven right and there is now almost universal disdain for the use of corn to make ethanol, except, of course, by the ethanol industry.
A ten-cent tax for nearly every plastic shopping bag is a similarly terrible idea.
What could possibly be wrong with, for instance, what the Boulder, Colo., city council documented in its version of the disposable bag fee ordinance?
"Supports efforts to reduce the amount of waste that must be land filled and pursue 'zero waste' as a long term goal by emphasizing waste prevention efforts."
"That the use of disposable bags has severe impacts on the environment on a local and global scale, including greenhouse gas emissions, ..."
The ordinance found more. We will deal with the two above.
The ordinance starts with the assumption that there is a shortage of landfill space. As Slate Magazine says, "When will the United States run out of landfill space? Not for centuries. ... the amount of space left in the ground isn't a pressing concern."
And, of course, there is the "zero waste" and landfill myths. From Ecoworld: "Recycling is not always the environmentally correct choice. Many items we recycle come from abundant raw materials and are inert and harmless when dumped. It costs more to recycle these than to bury the used and manufacture the new from scratch. Glass is a perfect example; plastic runs a close second. ... All of America's garbage for the next century could fit in just one landfill, only about 10 miles square." That's 0.000026 of the United States' land.
We argue that using plastic bags, even disposable ones, helps the environment. The most obvious help is that plastic bags sequester hydrocarbons. 72.5 percent of the plastic bags used in the United States and are made out of polyethylene which is a waste product of natural gas refining. If ethane is not used to make plastic, it will have to be burned off, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions. So much for the Boulder council's myth about greenhouse gas emissions from these bags.
So why do government officials repeat these myths? To us it is obvious: For the political control it exerts. The constant reminder every time we go to the grocery that government is watching is more effective than a picture of Big Brother at the checkout counter. Admitting that they are in error is simply too embarrassing. So the myths and lies are perpetuated.
Ralph Shnelvar is the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Boulder County. Quentin McKenna is a Libertarian activist who lives in Boulder.